Story and Photography by Sarah Naron
Nestled at the end of a quiet country road in Cherokee County is a small cemetery with a stone obelisk looming in its center. Those interred here are members of the Killough family, but the location is far from being just your typical family burial plot. In the 1800s, tragedy struck, irrevocably marring the land as a result.
According to John Killough, a resident of Murchison who is a descendant of the branch of Killoughs hailing from Missouri, the Killough Massacre occurred not long after the Texas Revolution.
“It was a terrible time to try to go and homestead new territory, because there was nothing but a lot of mad people around here at that time,” Killough said. “The Mexicans were mad because of the Revolution. The white settlers were mad because the Mexicans had been mean to them. The Indians were mad because they were being treated badly. So, it was just a really bad time.”
In spite of this, a branch of the Killough family traveled from Talladega County, AL and found themselves in the portion of East Texas that is now known as the community of Larissa and located roughly eight miles from the city of Jacksonville.
“They originally planned to travel further out West, where they could get some free land, but they heard some bad stories about the Plains Indians,” Killough said of the settlers. “So, they stopped near Jacksonville and built their homes and settled in there.”
Just under a year later – on Oct. 5, 1838, Killough said, tragedy struck.
“All of a sudden, they were attacked by – well, everybody called them Indians, but it was a collection of all kinds of people over the area,” Killough explained. “The whole thing, apparently, was stirred up by a Mexican revolutionary named Vicente Cordova. He had been some kind of official – alcalde, they called it – in Nacogdoches.”
Following the Revolution, Cordova foud himself without a job and began traveling back and forth to Mexico with the goal of assembling an army to reclaim Texas.
“He was going around deliberately stirring up Indian tribes against white settlers,” Killough said. “So, they suspect that was what he did that day. It was a collection of all kinds of people – Mexicans, Indians. They blamed the Cherokees for it. I’ve got a feeling there were a few Cherokees there.”
During the onslaught, a total of 18 settlers lost their lives or were taken captive by their attackers.
“One survivor, Nathaniel Killough, settled back in, and he became quite a prominent citizen there,” Killough said. “He was involved in establishing Larissa College there in the used to be little town of Larissa. It later became Trinity University in San Antonio.”
Nathaniel’s daughter, Eliza, also survived the attack, as did two women and a baby.
“They got away and traveled on foot some 40 miles over to Ft. Lacy, which was over just outside of Alto,” Killough said. “That was quite a trip they had. They kept hiding from Indians and trying to take care of the baby.”
Killough added that the baby, whose name was Billy, was subsequently dubbed the Child of a Massacre.
The monument built in remembrance of the event was constructed by the Civilan Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936. It has since attracted numerous visitors, many of whom claim that the tragedy that took place on the site turned it into a hotbed for paranormal activity. Those who have journeyed to the monument have reported hearing unexplained noises, seeing apparitions, and experiencing vehicle malfunctions.
Amber Cooper, a Jacksonville resident, paid a visit to the monument as a sophomore in high school roughly 11 years ago.
“It was a Friday night after a football game, and I was staying with a friend who lived very close to the monument,” she recalled. “We got the wild hair, like most teenagers in this town do, to go ghost hunting at our local creepy spot.”
A legend surrounding the Killough Monument goes that if visitors park their vehicle on a spot marked with an ‘X,’ the vehicle’s engine will die.
“Well, ours did,” Cooper said. “It was about 4 a.m. when all this occurred. I, being a little fitter and stockier, got told to get out and push the car off the ‘X’ while it was in neutral.”
Upon getting out of the car, Cooper, said, she heard noises which she said sounded akin to those produced by tribal war drums.
“I moved the car and got back in quickly,” she continued. “As we were leaving, I looked back in the taillights, and I could see the apparition of a small girl clear as day. After that, I decided to not go back at night, even to do paranormal investigations.”
On the night of her 17th birthday – March 12, 2013 – Alto resident Savanna Wehmeyer celebrated by taking a trip with her then-boyfriend to meet up with friends at the monument.
“Doing what high school kids do, we had planned to party, back road, etc., so we were prepared,” Wehmeyer shared. “We had a full tank of gas, our phones were charged, the works.”
Upon arriving at the monument – which Wehmeyer described simply as “the location” due to the unnerved feeling she still experiences when saying the name Killough Monument – the group began to explore.
“Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, other than this bird sound,” Wehmeyer remembered. “So, me being dumb, I said, ‘This place really isn’t that scary. It’s just a monument with some stone graves. It’s more interesting than scary.’”
This was, as she put it the “wrong thing to say.
“We had left our truck running when we arrived so we could play music,” Wehmeyer said. “The truck shut off! So, we were like, ‘Okay…what the heck?’”
Upon approaching the truck with the intention of restarting it, the group found that the vehicle would not crank.
“We messed with that truck for what felt like an hour before it started back up,” Wehmeyer said. “When it did, we left quick, fast, and in a hurry!”
The aforementioned “bird sound,” Wehmeyer said, proved to be a source of more shock for the group.
“”As we were leaving, we turned the first corner as you’re pulling away from the monument,” she said. “Then, it was quiet. I noticed that. So, I had my ex back up back around the corner just to see if I was tripping.”
According to Wehmeyer, when they returned to the monument, the sound could be heard once again.
“We did the same thing again,” she explained. “We pulled forward, it was quiet, and when we backed around again, it was there again! We were like, ‘Nah. That’s a wrap.’”
When reviewing her photos the following day, Wehmeyer discovered another surprise.
“There, clear as day, was a silhouette of an Indian standing on top of one of the stone graves,” she said. “I have tried to find the photo on my old online accounts and haven’t been successful. But I have people who have seen it that will tell you that place is very much haunted.”
In the years that have followed, Wehmeyer said, she has had “multiple things happen” which she believes stem from that experience.
“I’m convinced something stuck with me that night,” she said. “I haven’t been back since. I overlook road signs that say that name. Like, that place affected me enough to want absolutely no knowledge of its existence.”
Henderson resident Jackie Worley recalled one of several visits she and her husband took to the monument.
“We kept hearing these sounds, so we got really quiet and listened,” she said. “It sounded like you could hear Indians – like a war chant – and then, all of a sudden, you could hear screams. So, needless to say, that was the last time we were there, and we couldn’t get gone quick enough.”
Other visitors acknowledged experiencing strange feelings while at the monument.
“I used to go there a lot,” said area resident Sylvia Mendez. “It always felt off, and I’d get a knot in my stomach when I was near it.”
Sabrina Watson of Jacksonville said that during one visit with a friend, she “immediately sensed doom and sorrow” upon stepping out of her vehicle.
“The energy was so thick, it was hard to breathe,” she said. “Standing outside the gate, all of a sudden, we both felt like something was chasing us out. I went back and would try to make peace – clean or just honor the site.”
As a result of the unnerving sensation that visiting the monument provoked, Greenville resident Chawn Gibson vowed to never return after her most recent visit.
“I feel the void,” she said. “I will never go back in there.”
For those who remain unconvinced about the site’s fear factor, Sherri Washburn of Tyler has some simple advice.
“Just go at 3 a.m.,” she said. “You will get all the creepiness you need.”
According to www.killough.org, the driving directions to the Killough Monument are as follows.
“1. From the intersection of Hwy. 69 and FM 855, go west on FM 855 until you reach FM 3405. There is a sign there (or was at one time) that reads ‘Killough Monument’ and points to the left.
“2. Turn left on FM 3405 and go just about 0.4 miles to FM 3411.
“3. Turn right on FM 3411 and go 0.6 miles until you reach a road with a green gate with a huge boulder on either side. That is actually FM 3431, but there is no sign there.
“4. Turn left and proceed through the gate – the monument and cemetery are at the end of the road.”